My name is Raena Ramirez and I am Miss Tustin 2018! I chose to give you all a look into who I am and my journey through the Miss California Organization. From my platform to traveling to Disneyland- you can learn about my job aspirations, my athletic career, and why I am beyond ecstatic to represent the city of Tustin!
“Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.”- Jim Rohn
At twenty-three years of age, I have witnessed more hardship and inaccessibility than most people will see in their lifetime. In 2001, my grandfather, Kenneth E. Behring, established The Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit organization in Washington D.C. Although this organization is something that I have been exposed to since I was a young child, it is has touched me so deeply that I plan to one day take over for my father as the President of The Wheelchair Foundation. I feel honored and blessed to have been able to support their mission on over ten different mission trips in twelve different countries.
The Wheelchair Foundation has been my gateway to seeing these hardships firsthand in a myriad of different countries and has opened up my eyes to a world that many people tend to shove under the rug. Poverty, disease, malnutrition, armed conflict and lack of proper medical care are all major struggles and causes of disability in the developing world.
To date, The Wheelchair Foundation has delivered over 1,000,000 wheelchairs to over 156 different countries across the globe. It is estimated that at least one hundred million children, teens and adults worldwide need a wheelchair, but cannot afford one. Some international organizations state that the number could be as high as 6% of the population of developing countries.
Many times, these individuals do not attend school and are less likely to be employed. Families with a disabled family member tend to struggle financially and are pushed further into poverty often resulting in abandonment. Already suffering from the pain, isolation and indignity of a physical disability, many of these people must endure further burdens, many are forced to live on the ground or to wait to be carried to meet their most basic of needs. For many of the disabled, a wheelchair is a critical source of mobility which aids independence and integration into society, including their ability to earn a livelihood. For disabled children, a wheelchair aids their cognitive and psychosocial development.
When I was 14, I had the unforgettable opportunity to travel to South Africa to deliver wheelchairs with my dad and some Rotarians. Though I had always felt it was my calling to serve others, it was this pivotal trip that transformed the course of my life and who I was as a Daughter of the King. Since my last trip to Africa, I had had dreams to return, but this time around I wanted to make the trip happen completely on my own. My father told me that the way in which I could return would be to fund two containers of wheelchairs- which seemed daunting at $16,500 per container.
3 years ago, that dream to return to Africa became not only a plan, but a mission. For three years, I went to Rotary Club after Rotary Club putting together presentations on The Wheelchair Foundation (TWF), spoke at local schools, and put together fundraisers hoping that people would aid me on this mission. It is still SO darn humbling to know that so many incredible individuals provided what they could to help me surpass my goal of 2 containers, in fact, these servant-hearted folks helped me raise $42,500 to bring with us to Africa!!!! (Forever saying thank you for this!)
My dream had come alive and before we knew it, we were contacting non-profits and organizations in Africa and booking our flights to Tanzania.
When we arrived in Tanzania, we were sent on our way to the first wheelchair distribution at the Arusha District Commissioners Office. When we arrived, we were greeted with over 100 smiling faces of recipients, supporters, and family members. I’ll never forget pulling up to the distribution and seeing so much joy and gratitude in one sitting. We were escorted to a small, white table in front of all the recipients where a few members of the Tanzanian government introduced us and spoke about our non-profit and our mission. Before we began placing the recipients in the wheelchairs, my father and I were able to give speeches of our own (it was pretty nifty to have our own Swahili translator!)
The next day marked our second wheelchair distribution which took place in Monduli at the Monduli Rehabilitation Centre where we were once again greeted with about 75 smiling and joyous faces! At the rehab center, we were able to see the rehabilitation services provided by the Tanzanian government and were able to visit with a few of the children who were recovering from amputations, limb separation, prosthetic limb attachment, or facial surgeries.
Following the tour of the rehab center, we began to set up the 50+ wheelchairs we had brought with us, most of them being “kanga wheelchairs,” which are specialized wheelchairs for those with severe deformities (I.E cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, Mermaid Syndrome). Most of our recipients on our distributions were children, and upon seeing all of them, I immediately wished that we had been able to provide more of the kanga wheelchairs (which is tough because they’re pricier at $650 per wheelchair versus $150 for the regular ones).
As always, it’s incredibly difficult to see the disabilities and struggles that plague a third world country, and this distribution was no exception.
One of the most heart-wrenching feelings is seeing the way in which many of these people live when they are immobile. Many recipients arrived on motorcycles by being strapped to the driver, crawled their way to the distribution, used crutches as transportation, were carried on the backs of their caretakers, and some even made make-shift wheelchairs that were falling apart piece by piece.
We saw so many children that had horrific birth defects- most prominently cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus (brain swelling), Sirenomelia (Mermaid Syndrome where a baby is born with their legs sewn together), and congenital amputation (where a baby is born without limbs). A lot of these birth defects are due to lack of proper nutrition during pregnancy, excess fluoride in the water, AIDS, unsafe food and water, and poor prenatal care.
The remainder of our recipients were a mixture of elderly, people who had been paralyzed by car accidents, and people that had been involved in work accidents.
One of the most heartwarming stories from our distribution happened at our first distribution in Arusha. I had just placed this 8-year-old boy who had been paralyzed his entire life into a wheelchair when I asked the young girl next to him if she was his sister. She spoke English and told me she had been practicing so that she could thank us properly.
She took hold of both of my hands with tears in her eyes as she looked at me and said, “He is my best friend. We are best friends. We dreamed of the day that he could have his own wheelchair. I pushed him 35 miles for this. He is my best friend and now he is free to play on his own.”
You best bet I lost it at that moment.
One of the most incredible things I noticed in Africa was the immense sense of family and love that Africans have for one another. At these distributions you see family members who have taken care of the recipient for years, sometimes even decades. For example, at the Monduli Rehab Centre I met a recipient who was 104 (yes, 104) years old who had been taken care of by her son for over 40 years. Her son said that the government doesn’t provide healthcare and hospitals refused to give her a wheelchair because they didn’t believe it was necessary.
So for 40 years, he took care of his mother.
This blog post doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the joy and gratitude that these wheelchair distributions provide. For my readers who have never been on a wheelchair distribution, it is one of the most life-changing experiences. I don’t even know how to describe what it feels like to place someone in a wheelchair- to give them independence, hope, mobility, and a new lease on life by providing a simple seat and 4 wheels.
Nothing in my life has been as rewarding as not only being able to provide the funds for 2 containers of wheelchairs, but also to be able to distribute the wheelchairs with my family. I am forever grateful.
As I did when I was 14, I once again left my heart in Africa.
“Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and soon you will be doing the impossible.”
I had never competed in a pageant before. This was my first time, and it took so much of my courage to apply because it felt like such a risk. I watched Miss America every year since I was a little girl, but never in a million years did I think I would participate in a pageant, let alone actually win one! I never thought I was skinny enough or a nerdy engineer like me belonged in the pageant world. I realized, I have spent my entire life breaking down walls that people put up before me, and this pageant could be my chance to change even more stereotypes.
I grew up on a farm in a small town in eastern Washington. I was raised by my farmer father, who is full Japanese, and my mother who is Irish, French, and Native American. It is safe to say my town had a very small Asian population. One day in kindergarten, a girl came up to me and told me that I wasn’t allowed to play with my fair-skinned, blond, and blue-eyed friends because my hair and my skin were too dark. Obviously in kindergarten, I never thought of myself as different from the other kids, but at that moment I realized I was different. I didn’t look like the other kids I went to school with, and my home life and traditions were much different than those of my friends (I was shocked when I found out not everyone had a rice cooker in their house!). As I got older, these differences become more prominent and easy for me to recognize. I decided to embrace those differences instead of letting them hold me back.
I was stereotyped a lot especially during middle school and high school, but I did not want to live in a world where I was inhibited by the social confines of what people thought I should and should not be good at just because of my appearance. I was the girl who sang the national anthem for her own varsity basketball games and track meets. I was a 5’3” hurdler in high school and a dang good one too! I was a district champion, a state qualifier, and I would beat girls in the high hurdlers who were 6 feet tall, with legs as tall as me, and built like hurdlers. People looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to run the hurdles because I was so short. I also auditioned for and the received the part of the red-headed Annie in our high school’s musical production of Annie when I was a sophomore! I received so many funny looks when I told people I would be playing Annie in our high school’s musical until they heard me sing. Even coming to college in California, where the culture is so diverse with so many people from all walks of life, I was still felt set apart from the crowd as a female engineering student. I had to fight for my respect here and to show that women are just as smart and talented as men in STEM fields. I have decided no matter what people say, I am going to live my own life and accomplish the things that I want to accomplish and not let anything stand in my way.
I had to use this same mentality when competing for Miss Santa Clara. My engineering friends thought I was joking when I said I would be competing in a pageant. They did not think a pageant was a place for engineers because they only thought of pageants as a competition to see who is prettier and can do their makeup the best when it is SO much more than that! It is a scholarship program where anyone who wants to compete can, and anyone can have the chance to win. With my title, I want to break down the walls and stereotypes that come with the word “pageant”. I am the last person I ever thought would win a pageant, and I want people to know that you can be an engineer and still wear the crown. I plan to use my title as Miss Santa Clara to share my story and show that if this small-town, farm girl can become an engineer AND Miss Santa Clara, then absolutely nothing is impossible with hard work and dedication!
I remember watching my hometown’s local pageant since I was a little girl and when I was 17, I entered and learned that I actually knew very little about what these pageants actually entailed. If there’s one thing I’ve realized over the past few years that I’ve been involved in the Miss America Organization, it’s that you will begin to undergo a transformation into the very best version of yourself. Just by entering a local competition for the Miss America Organization (you don’t even have to win!), you will gain the following:
Scholarship– As one of the largest scholarship providers to young women in the world, the Miss America Organization has paid for over half of my college education to date. I finished my undergraduate studies in 2.5 years, and this would not have been possible, nor affordable, had I not gained the scholarships from this organization. Many local preliminaries will guarantee every contestant a scholarship just for participating. If you do happen to win the title, there are even further opportunities to gain scholarships through awards, advertisement sales, placement, and more.
Sisters– You will meet the most incredible like-minded women who are passionate about their communities, their education, and their careers. You will meet your closest friends, find a second family. The Miss America Organization defies the stigma of a stereotypical “pageant girl” because the women I’ve met are some of the most intelligent, talented, and kind people I have known.
Professional Skills– Before entering a local competition, contestants must complete paperwork including a Resume and a Platform Statement, providing the opportunity to work on resume and writing skills. In addition to this, the interview and onstage question portions of competition teach us how to communicate effectively and think on the spot. As titleholders, we are required to attend public events, speaking engagements, interviews, and the like, which tests these skills even more. We are taught to communicate effectively to voice our thoughts and opinions in a professional way while still remaining personable. Participating in pageants has taught me confidence in speaking to and with people from all different walks of life. After graduating college, I was never nervous to attend job interviews, conference calls, presentations, and networking events in my professional life because of the experiences the Miss America Organization had offered.
Personal Skills– All contestants in the Miss America Organization choose a personal “platform,” a good cause for which they volunteer their time and promote in their communities. My platform is “Music Therapy for the Elderly”, a cause I choose to promote because of my passions and life experiences. In a way, this has been a “platform” throughout my entire life that this organization has allowed to come to fruition. Having a platform encourages contestants to get involved in the causes we are passionate about on a greater scale, bringing personal action and passion to community change. Your platform will allow you to increase your voice, establish yourself as active member in your community, and fuel your passion to follow your dreams. The work I have done with my platform has brought me the happiest experiences, the most creative ideas, and the hope to create my own nonprofit in the future.
There are so many reasons other why I advocate for the Miss America Organization, but these are some of the major ones that have truly transformed my life. Sure, I can stick on false lashes and walk in 5 inch heels now, but more than that, I attribute so much of my educational success, professional success, and life skills to this organization. Others who are or have been involved in the Miss America a Organization will share similar positive experiences. For those who are unfamiliar with this organization, I hope I have opened your mind, or at least offered a different perspective, to pageantry. I hope you consider getting yourself, your sister, or your friend involved in the Miss America Organization. You will gain the scholarship, sisterhood, professional skills, and personal skills I described, and so much more. The crown is just icing on the cake.
I am an undergraduate, full-time student at San Diego State University studying Journalism and Media Studies with an emphasis in Public Relations, and a minor in Dance. I would not have had the means or courage to pursue my dream of higher education had I not taken the leap to compete in my first Miss America’s Outstanding Teen local pageant in 2010. I’m proud of who I am and who I am becoming, and the Miss America Organization is an integral part of that.
One of the most invigorating parts of being a local titleholder is attempting to live each day in embodiment of the Four Points of the crown: Scholarship, Style, Service and Success. College is one of the most challenging yet exciting goals I have ever set for myself. I take pride in my status as a student, remain eager to learn and be successful in my academic career. Nothing feels better than giving your school the scholarship dollars this organization provides. My personal style has evolved fluidly throughout my journey. It has become representative of where I’ve been, where I am at currently, and where I am pointing my arrow next. I am firm believer in the influence of everyday surroundings on the way you style yourself. My style projects an image of me that is representative of my adolescence in the Bay Area and my early adulthood in San Diego. My platform is called Perfect Imperfection: Body Positivity and Respect. I created this movement to inspire a culture of respect and positivity when we talk about our bodies and their differences, particularly among children and teenagers. Serving my community in this way has allowed me to contribute to the Body Positive movement. Success is something I strive for in every part of my life with each day I pursue my dreams.
If I could add a fifth point to the crown, it would be Sisterhood. Beyond the scholarship and the opportunity for personal development, the Miss America Organization provides a place for people to connect and create long lasting relationships with some of the world’s best people. I have found some of the most wonderful friends in the contestants, volunteers and sponsors I’ve had the opportunity to work with and get to know. I have found so many people who inspire me to push myself, be kind and to remain grounded in my purpose. I am an advocate of empowering others due, in large part, to the people I have met through the Miss America Organization. The sisterhood is strong, influential and so very real.
Being a Miss America local titleholder affords women endless, incredible opportunities that are extraordinarily unmatched. There are obvious perks, like the scholarship money each contestant is awarded, the chance to make a difference in our communities, and the ability to train professional, social and emotional skills in the field on a regular basis. “Adulting” is my favorite way to put it. This organization gives women scholarship money in exchange for the chance of a lifetime. I have spent the last seven years competing in this organization because my involvement in is directly tied to the accomplishments from all facets of my life.
I am honored to be Miss North Bay 2018. Being a Children’s Miracle Network Ambassador, and an advocate for body positivity and respect is an absolute dream come true that I am fully engaged in. I am diving into this year of service with gusto, courage and so many ideas I can’t wait to manifest. Follow me at @MissNorthBay on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with my journey!
Growing up I have always been looked down upon… literally. My short stature has always made me feel in some way inadequate. For example, in certain buildings, the mirrors are placed too high and all I can see is the top of my head. Also, some eye holes in doors are too high for me to look through.
In addition, when people first meet me they say you’re so “cute”, because you’re so “tiny”. When I was younger I took these comments graciously, but as I became older, I wanted to be noticed for more than just my height when people first met me. I wanted to be noticed and remembered for my confidence and how personable I was, rather than just my small stature.
Entering the Miss America Organization gave me the opportunity to do so. I was a fairly new teenager coming into this program and it was around the time I truly wanted to find out who I was as a person. After holding my first title as Miss Placentia’s Outstanding Teen 2015, I gained so many qualities that boosted my confidence and pushed me to be a better representative of not only myself, but of something greater than myself. I learned that I am not just what is on the outside, but I am so much more than that. I am a strong, independent woman who has her own opinion and can stand in a room and exude an inviting essence.
I’m so grateful for the Miss America Program for giving me the opportunity to find out who I am while representing the cities I love. Winning the titles of Miss Placentia’s Outstanding Teen 2015 and now, Miss Bay Area 2018 proved not only to myself of my capabilities, but also how unique this organization is. It is purely about who the women are on the inside, and shows it is not in search for a cookie cutter type. It promotes diversity and individuality, and I am honored to be part of this organization. I hope to grow even more as a woman this year as Miss Bay Area 2018 and I cannot wait for the experiences I will gain.
I know now, that I am not just a five foot girl who only sees the top of her head in mirrors, but I am a confident and successful woman, and I owe that all to the Miss America Program.
When I share that I am pursuing a career in medicine while wearing a sparkly accessory (albeit one that is perhaps not the most inconspicuous), I often get a few raised eyebrows. For some, it can be understandably difficult to reconcile the two and imagine how two seemingly different worlds could mesh together. But having traversed both paths, I can attest that the two worlds are inextricably linked and each arena compliments and enhances the other. Having gone from a complete outsider to now a staunch supporter of the mission and values of this organization, I can share firsthand the impact the Miss America Organization has made on me.
The Miss America Organization is founded on four principles, also known as the “four points of the crown”: Service, Scholarship, Style, and Success. This multifaceted foundation enabled me to be a better public servant and has equipped me for a lifelong devotion to service in medicine. The medical vocation is most notably marked by a relentless commitment to advocating for others. I am most grateful to the Miss America Organization for allowing me the opportunity to do exactly that each and every day as Miss Garden Grove. Not only am I privileged to be a voice for my hometown at large, but I am also blessed to meet community members from all walks of life. From the precious kids at our Children’s Miracle Network hospitals to the devoted members of our Garden Grove community service groups, every child, parent, and public servant has shaped me by sharing their story. I met a woman who shared how the Pink Door Salon, our incredible local (and state!) sponsor, had changed her life by helping her heal and regrow her hair after experiencing alopecia areata symptoms. By taking the time to hear her journey and healing process, I better understood how we as healthcare providers can empathize with and advocate for our patients. Connecting with the Garden Grove community continues to mold my vision for what it means to serve, care, and advocate well both at the individual and community scale.
The very people that I am privileged to serve are the ones who have generously supported my academic journey and helped me to attain my Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Southern California in three years. In addition to awarding scholarships, this organization has given me the tools to help me hone my public speaking and communication skills in professional and diplomatic settings.
Success looks different to each individual. Personally, I experience success in investing and sowing into relationships – from my Garden Grove neighbors and friends, to the people I meet from all over the world. Each of us have the ability to sow into relationships and lift up those around us, with or without a title. That being said, it has been an honor to have a platform to mentor and empower the youth in my community, and to learn from those who have gone before me.
The past few years have remarkably transformed my outlook and vision of what it means to truly have a servant’s heart. I can’t wait to see what growth, challenges, and blessings lie ahead in this coming year.
Excited to share this journey with you all – join me on Facebook and Instagram at @missgardengrove to stay in touch!
Miss Garden Grove 2018
Have questions about what has been happening? Just have questions about the Miss California Organization? Want to learn more about State Finals in June?
I will be hosting a Q and A session on Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 7pm on Facebook.com/MissCAorg.
If you have something you really want addressed, please email me this week at Patricia@MissCalifornia.org and I will include the topic at the beginning before the Q and A.
Some of the topics I will address:
- The current situation of the Miss America BOD, the Miss Americas and the state executive directors with regard to the national organization.
- The current situation of the national competition.
- The current state of the Miss California Organization.
- Our State License with Miss America – what we have to live by as a state.
- The current state of our contestant and volunteer protection policies for the Miss California Organization.
- The road to Miss California and Miss California’s OT 2018.
- Doubletree and Fresno
- Age changes
- Orientation 2018
- Ad Page Sales
- CMN fundraising
- Scholarship expectations
- Production news
- State Final Competition
- Judges brief for both Miss and Teen
- Our expectations for Miss California and Miss California’s OT.
- Princess Program
- MAOT Prep
- MAO Prep
I will add to this list as you send me topics that you want me to address. Can’t wait to chat with everyone on Thursday!
Happy New Year!